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A Poll: Woodworking With Kids

April 14, 2014

I don’t often ask for input from my blog readers as I’m fairly adept at rambling on without much guidance.

However, I’ve received several comments and e-mails (all positive) regarding my last few posts on woodworking with kids and am thinking about a more structured approach to the topic. Before I dive too heavily into it, I thought it might be a good idea to gather a little information and figure out how much interest there is in the subject and the best direction (if there is one) I should take in discussing it.

Thus, I have a short poll for you and a request. Please take just a few seconds (seriously, like 10 seconds!) to give me some feedback, if you don’t mind. Pick as many of the below choices as you want. If you care to expound upon your vote, feel free to leave a comment in the blog post’s comment section.



Little Hands In The Shop, Part 2

March 6, 2014

I was back in the shop the other night, boxing up the Adria dovetail saw to go to its new owner…

(That’s right; you gotta be fast around here! If you hear me say something is for sale, and you’re interested in it, speak up quickly!)

… when Finley came down again, wearing his slide-on slippers on the wrong feet like he always does. (I think they stay on better that way, for some reason.)

“Dadda, can you show me how to plane again?”

My first plane. Now Finley's first plane, as well...

My first plane. Now Finley’s first plane, as well…

I’d been thinking about it since the first time he asked and realized I had the perfect solution already at hand. I told him I’d do him one better and pulled out a Stanley 220 block plane for him to use! He was very excited.

This was the very first plane I bought when I had the idea I wanted to give hand planes a try. Apparently I don’t really have much sentimental value attached to it, because it was sitting in the box of tools I’m going to sell in the near future, as I’ve since upgraded my block planes.

The new shop assistant gets put to work...

The new shop assistant gets put to work…

This one is a little off in that the knob is not rosewood, like you’d normally see on a 220 block plane. It is a domestic hardwood (looks to be maple) with a reddish stain on it. After buying the first one, I picked up a second 220 with a broken body that still had the rosewood knob on it for $1, hoping to put a proper one back on mine. But the threaded post on mine was too skinny, which seems odd, so I left the non-rosewood knob on it and didn’t give it a second thought. As it turns out, that was a good thing. The other knob is a perfect gripping size for the hands of a not-quite-4-year-old boy!

Since Finley goes to a Montessori school, I’m trying to give him lessons the way they do. You silently do the task while he observes, breaking it down into as many steps as necessary, then let him do it. The only verbal instructions I gave him were to be mindful of the blade, because it is sharp.

Just like that, his hand plane journey begins...

Just like that, his hand plane journey begins…

I clamped some wood into the soon-to-be-replaced workbench and put a large toolbox under it for him to stand on. He gripped the knob with his left hand and the lever cap with his right and… started planing wood! I showed him how to get wide shavings by planing on the edge of the board and then how to get thin, curly shavings by planing the corner. He liked those the best.

After he went back upstairs, I finished boxing up the Adria dovetail saw and then continued with another small task – picking out some tools for Finley to use.

A couple of old squares...

A couple of old squares…

A wooden mallet with a handle that was always too small for me...

A wooden mallet with a handle that was always too small for me…

Still trying to figure out which hand drill to give him...

Still trying to figure out which hand drill to give him…

And, in case you think I’m cold and heartless, that 220 block plane most certainly has some sentimental value at this point.


Little Hands In The Shop

February 28, 2014

The new shop assistant

The new shop assistant

I was working in the shop last Sunday, pulling the last of the nails from one of the reclaimed heart pine beams, when I heard a noise behind me. I turned around and saw Finley, my three year old son, standing in the doorway of the workshop, eyes not yet fully opened from his afternoon nap.

“Dadda,” he said in a scratchy I-just-woke-up voice, “Can you teach me how to saw?”

Apparently I’d left a can of finish open somewhere in the shop, because my eyes suddenly started watering. I put down my tools, wiped my eyes, and told him we might not be able to do a proper lesson at that moment, since the shop is a complete wreck, but I would certainly show him how and we could set up a space for him to do some fun things in the shop in the near future.

The saw he ISN'T using...

The saw he ISN’T using…

We went over to my small assortment of saws and I tried to figure out which one might work best. I didn’t even give my good Tyzack dovetail saw a second thought, though it is the smallest backsaw I own. It will eventually need a new plate, but I’d rather it get through a few more sharpenings first. I have a mostly-unused Adria dovetail saw, as well, but I’m going to be selling it shortly, so I’d rather not bugger it up just before I do that. In the end, I decided on one of my smaller panel saws I really haven’t cleaned up yet. It is still sharp, though, so I took it back to the shop and helped him make a few pieces of scrap wood into smaller scrap wood.

After he got tired of that, he said, “Dadda, now can you show me how to plane something?”

Again, I had to dry my eyes before responding (I seriously need to figure out where I left that can of finish…). This was a little harder to let him do, mostly because he just doesn’t have the muscle mass and hand strength yet to hold a plane solidly enough. But I showed him a few planes and told him what they’re for and showed him how they work. I retracted the blade on a Stanley #5 and let him hold it for a minute to see how heavy it was.

At that point, his momma called him up to help her with supper. I put the planes and saws away and followed him upstairs. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to encourage his interest in woodworking. I want to provide him a space and some tools to play around and develop better hand/eye coordination and the hand and arm strength he needs to use saws and planes.

The American Kid Saw (photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

The American Kid Saw (photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

Earlier this week, I grabbed some cash from my woodworking stash (none of this money comes from our family budget – it comes from selling boxes, payment for articles I write, tools I sell, etc. – so my wife doesn’t care what I do with it) and deposited it into my checking account. Then I invested it by putting in an order with Mark Harrell of Bad Axe Tool Works for an American Kid saw. (Hoping for some good dividends there…)

The American Kid saw is something Mark came up with a few years ago to help encourage woodworking in youngins (and, I guess, adults with very tiny hands?). I think Finley was about one year old when the model came out and I honestly never expected to be buying one so quickly. Like all other Bad Axe saws, they are very customizable, depending on how much money you want to spend. I figured we’d just go with all of the standard features on Finley’s first saw, which includes an 8″ plate, a black-oxidized back, and a CherryShock shock-resistant tote.

Shock-resistant totes come standard (Photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

Shock-resistant totes come standard (Photo courtesy of Bad Axe Tool Works)

I ordered it with the smallest tote Mark offers (XX-Small), since Finley’s hand only measures 2.5” across the palm. When he needs to upgrade to a bigger tote, all I need to do is send the saw back to Bad Axe Tool Works. Mark will put a new tote on and sharpen the saw for a paltry $25. So this saw should work for him for quite a few years. I’ll make a bench hook for him and post an update after the saw arrives (looks to be a 6-8 week wait at this point) and we’ve had a few sessions with it.

Then I started going through some of my other tools to see what else he might safely use. (The nice thing about having a basement workshop with only a bandsaw in it is that I don’t really have to worry about power tool safety with him – there is little to even be concerned with at this point.) I have one or two small eggbeater drills that will be perfect and plenty of smaller hammers he can chose from, so hole-drilling and nail-hammering is covered.

Unless someone out there has an extra Stanley #1 (or a Superior Works #601) they’d be willing to donate, I’ll have to ponder the plane challenge to see what I can come up with there. I do have a Lee Valley low angle block plane with the tote and knob accessories on it… maybe that will work, though I’m hesitant to put that not-inexpensive plane in the hands of a not-yet-four-year-old.

For a bench, I was thinking a good starting point might be a saw bench with splayed legs; something he can put a bench hook on and clamp wood to for drilling. He is just too little yet for even a higher raised platform to make working at a normal bench safe. It would have to be a very tall, wide, and stable platform and that would take up a lot of room.

If anyone out there has any additional ideas or suggestions – whether it is about tools or books I should be looking for or workshop ideas – add a comment below or e-mail me! I’d love to hear them.


Nailed It!

February 24, 2014

Or, rather, I de-nailed it. If you’ll recall from a few posts back, I’d recently (it’s a relative term) picked up the heart pine beams I was going to use for my new workbench. Most of them were in fairly good shape, except one that still had a few nails buried in it – five, to be precise.

After spending some time sorting beams, flipping and flopping them around to determine the best layout for the top, I had them lined up the way I wanted. I struck a few lines with a square and straight edge and trimmed them to length with a hand saw. Because the beam with the nails still in it was a few feet longer than the others, I used this step to remove two of the nails for me.

Tools: an old nail puller and a new chisel...

Tools: an old nail puller and a new chisel…

That left me with three nails to pull, since I did not want to bury them in the top. Having de-nailed several hundred board feet of reclaimed white oak (which was all clench-nailed when the wood was still green), I know how hard it can be. It isn’t something that causes me to skip to the shop with excitement, to be sure. But, in this case, I saw an opportunity to use a tool I’d picked up at an estate sale about six years ago and had not yet had the chance to use – an old Keen Kutter nail puller!

Ahhh, there it is!

Ahhh, there it is!

Since all three nails were broken off below the surface, I had to excavate a bit of wood from around the  holes to make room for the jaws of the tool. Now, some people might say, “To begin, reach for an old chisel…” I say they’re wrong! All of my old chisels are my BEST chisels. I’ve spent a lot of time rehabbing them into good condition, so why on Earth would I use them to chop into wood around old rusted nails? No, this is when I reach for a NEW chisel – one of the chisels I bought when I first got into woodworking and didn’t know any better – they are perfect for such a task (and the only reason I still keep them around)!

Enlarged mortise and dent on the left; initial mortise on the right.

Enlarged mortise and dent on the left; initial mortise on the right.

After a few minutes of work, even being careful, my chisel edge was chipped in several places. It is easy enough to grind the chips out, but it feels better not needlessly grinding a good chisel, you know? With a rough mortise chopped around the nail, things become clearer. For one thing, I clearly needed to make larger openings if I was going to get the jaws around the nails.

The right tool makes quick work of the job...

The right tool makes quick work of the job…

Once I had enough clearance, I set the jaws of the tool around the nail and levered into the foot of the tool. The nail immediately started pulling out… and the foot immediately started making an impression in the softer heart pine. Adjusting slightly for a better grip, and inserting a thin piece of wood under the foot, I levered again and the nail pulled free. I repeated the process for the other two nails and…

I was done. Well… aside from patching the holes. That shouldn’t take too long, though I’ll still try to write something up if just to show you how easy it is.

The extractor, the extracted, and the label...

The extractor, the extracted, and the label…

I know, I know, kind of an anticlimactic story. Sorry. I guess I just wanted to reiterate the idea of using the right tool for the job. Or, part of the right tool, anyway. Looking at some on-line pictures, it appears I just have the bottom half of the Keen Kutter nail puller (and the label), but… it still works just fine. And it only cost me $3, so I’m cool with that. If I ever need the extra leverage, I can probably find a piece of iron pipe to slide over the handle.

The next step is to do some jointing so I can glue the top up. Although the faces were all machine-planed, I still have a lot of work to do. I’ve jointed plenty of edges before, but they were always ½” thick and less than two feet long (ahhh, the challenges of being a box-building woodworker). Having never jointed 3” thick 7’ long beams before, I expect it will take a little practice before I get the results I want. But we’re getting there.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve built my workshop in the Shire, because work seems to happen so slowly there, if it happens at all. But when your shop time is limited to a few hours on the weekends, things like a sick child, warm weather better suited for outdoor work, or a visit to the grandparents can reduce those few hours to nothing. As a result, this bench build is going a lot slower than those I read about in other blogs. I hope you’re cool with that, because I am. It is what it is; when you come to terms with that sort of thing, you quickly learn to enjoy and appreciate the limited shop time you have.

Speaking of shop time, I’d planned on doing more on the bench this weekend, but something else happened that cut my shop time short. That story will have to wait until later this week, though…

A Perfect Book

January 24, 2014

The Anarchist's Tool Chest

The Anarchist’s Tool Chest

The amount of time I spend in my shop waxes and wanes periodically. At a glance, it would seem to be a simple association with available free time, since I have a lot of priorities above my hobby, but I assume there is more to it than that. (I’ll have to look into that the next time I’m feeling introspective.)

In any case, when I get to a point where I ramp my woodworking back up, I like to maintain the momentum when I’m at work by reading a good woodworking book on my lunch breaks. I have several authors I habitually turn to, like Nakashima and Krenov. This time, however, I went with the Schwarz.

I’m now just about done with my fifth reading of The Anarchist’s Toolchest – not bad for a three year old book. I think I’ve figured out now that I turn to certain authors depending on what kind of motivation I want to generate within myself. I read Nakashima if I want to get inspiration for working with specific wood I have in my shop. I pull out my Krenov books when I’m trying to come up with different ways to enhance a project I have in mind. And I turn to the Schwarz when I need a push to make sure I’m doing the best I can.

It helps me remember the phrase the artist Jan Van Eyke added to the frame of his painting, “Man with a Red Turban”Als Ik Kan – which is Dutch for “As best I can”. (Every now and again that Art History degree gets a little bit of use!) This is a saying that was adopted by the Arts and Crafts movement as a motto of sorts. Chris, too, makes mention of the phrase in a short article he wrote for his former publication, Woodworking Magazine. Funny how things come full circle like that.

Its meaning varies slightly, depending on who you talk to. It reminds me that I need to work to the best of my abilities, that I shouldn’t be happy with making “acceptable” work, but should push myself to produce the best work possible every time.

Anyway… I was reading the section “Lids and Hinges” when I turned to page 427 and a slip of paper fell out. I immediately knew what it was and started laughing.

My gentle reminder...

My gentle reminder…

My mom left that note for me to find about two years ago when she was babysitting Finley and thumbed through the book during one of his naps. I always forget it is there, though, so this is the third time I’ve turned the page and it has fallen out, surprising me.

Today I needed the laugh. I’ve had a rough week with a three year old who is turning out to be a lot like his father. And while I try to use the Schwarz to help drive myself to do Als Ik Kan, it is also good to have the reminder from my mom that I shouldn’t kill myself trying to be perfect.

Thanks, Mom.

i heart pine.

January 13, 2014

Alright, so I’m finally able to carve enough free time out of my schedule to line up a few projects I want to tackle this year. The primary goal is to get my shop fully set up.

When it comes to our woodworking, I imagine we all have different dreams. Some want the latest tool, whether it is a cabinet saw with finger-saving technology or a made-in-the-USA handplane built to the highest standards, while others have an empty house they want to fill with things they’ve made themselves.

My woodworking dreams are maybe a little unusual.  I dream about walking into a shop, bench clear and tools away. I quickly get to work, spending a few free hours on whatever project I have at hand. The cat sits off to one side, batting a curl of walnut shaving around when she gets bored with trying to get treats out of me. Then I put everything back in place before sweeping up and hitting the lights on the way out the door. The next time I get a few hours of shop time, I walk into the shop and pick up right where I left off without having to search through benches and shelves, looking for whatever tool it is I need.

In my dream, everything is nice and orderly. I can bring my 3-year-old son down to watch me work, even help me with a project, without being overtly concerned about his safety because I don’t have crap laying around everywhere. I dream of peace, calm, and serenity – someplace I can go that helps me reduce stress and frustration, not add to it.

Go big or go home, right? Well, let’s start with the heart of the shop and build my new workbench. Late last year, I stopped by fellow woodworker Scott Wunder’s shop/local lumber paradise to sort through some reclaimed heart pine beams he had in stock.


Antique heart pine, not quite fully reclaimed…

Ooooh!  I heart reclaimed heart pine! He agreed to bring it all down to the same thickness before I took delivery, which I did this past weekend…


The top is on the bottom, the stretchers are on top, and the legs are in the back…

It isn’t quite ready for gluing up, though. One of the beams has a few (5) nails in it that broke off during the nail extraction process. I could try and work around them and/or bury them in the top, but I’m going to dig them out, instead. Some of the edges of the pieces I’ve selected for the top (the five boards set edge-to-edge towards the front) need a bit of jointing before they will come together properly, as well.

Honestly, it isn’t the prettiest wood. It has lots of character, to put it nicely, but that comes with working reclaimed lumber, right? I don’t mind if it’s a little rough on the legs or the stretchers or underneath the top, but I will probably end up chopping out a few of the spots that will interfere with a clean, flat bench top and inlay some dutchman patches. If anything, I can always use the additional inlay practice!

The end result should be a top that is about 3″ thick, 20″ or so wide, and just around 7′ long. That sounds rather nice…

Book Review: Hand-Applied Finishes

September 18, 2013

Hand-Applied Finishes

Hand-Applied Finishes

Hand-Applied Finishes
by Jeff Jewitt

There are books in my library I like to re-read every now and again, just to keep certain ideas or techniques fresh in my mind. If it has been a while since I’ve started a new project, one of the first books I’ll pull out is Jeff Jewitt’s book, Hand-Applied Finishes. I like to review the dog-eared pages in this book before I even pick out the wood I’m going to use.

Why? Because one of the most important aspects of your project is the finish you put on it. It’s the first thing anyone touches. It is the first thing anyone sees (or doesn’t see). It protects your project from abuse and the elements. And, to some degree, the finishing technique you want to use should play a part in determining which species of wood you use (or vice versa, if you’re dead set on using a specific species of wood).

One of the things I like about Jeff’s book is that it is easy to read. I don’t just mean the line spacing and page color/composition and slight serif text is easy on the eyes (which it is); I’m also referring to how clearly and concisely he writes. There isn’t a lot of fluff to muddy his ideas and the Contents page gives testament to how well the book is organized. You want to know about varnish? Turn to page 111. Need to control stain penetration? Page 60. Have a finish to repair? Page 169.

Each chapter focuses on a different finishing method. Each method is broken down further to (briefly) explain its chemical composition, go over when such a finish might be used, and then describe the best techniques for applying that finish. Most of the images in the book are used to help explain techniques, so I don’t mind that they are in black-and-white. The one exception to this is Chapter 3, which, appropriately enough, focuses on stains and dyes – that chapter does have color pictures.

For those of you who don’t ship your finished project out the minute the finish is no longer tacky, the last chapter on maintaining, cleaning, and repairing finishes will come in very handy. Of course, with a three year old running around, the section on repairing finishes still sees a lot of use in our house.

Hand-Applied Finishes, published by the Taunton Press, is neither large (standard 8”x10”) nor thick (under 180 pages). It is a perfect reference book for someone like me; that is, someone who doesn’t complete too many projects in a year, doesn’t like messing with spray finishes, doesn’t have the space for a separate spray booth or finishing room, and is always just a little nervous about one of the most important steps in completing your project. It is a highly-used and highly-recommended book in my library.


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